A horse grazing on Port Meadow, ancient common land in Oxford. Common land is one form of anticapitalism.
Common land, like Port Meadow in Oxford, is one form anticapitalism can take.

Today I want to correct a misconception about anticapitalism that I keep seeing people getting confused on. Namely, that being anticapitalist means wanting everyone to be poor. Being anticapitalist does not mean being anti-money. Anticapitalism means thinking it is unjust that a few people make most of the money, at the expense of everyone else. Anticapitalism means creating a world where more people flourish.

Let’s begin by thinking about what capitalism really is. Capitalism is an economic system where the means of production and/or resources (factories, companies, mines etc) are privately owned and the owners are motivated by profiting from the labour of everybody else. Of course, many consequences stem from that simple thing, but that is all capitalism is.

Anticapitalism means more money for most people

Money is not capitalism. Money is the medium of exchange we use to facilitate trade. We can think of money as circulating around societies as people buy and sell the goods and services they want. How exactly money flows depends on the economic system of a society. In state socialist societies, for example, wealthy people pay more in tax, so there is an inflow of tax to the state and (hopefully) an outflow of money into public services.

In capitalist societies, business owners are motivated by profit, so we have a situation roughly equivalent to someone building a dam that diverts the flow of money to a small group of people (owners and shareholders) with everyone else getting just a trickle. I chose this dam analogy because capitalists like building big dams. Millions of people around the world, mostly Indigenous people, have been displaced from their traditional lands and livelihoods by big dam projects. All for the sake of profit.

Putting profit before people is capitalist

When a company’s primary motivation is maximising its profits, a number of other things follow. They want to keep costs low, including wages. They want to extract as much profit from workers as possible. That means long working hours and poor working conditions. Those job ads asking people to do “any other duties” and “be on call during weekends and evenings”? Those are expressing capitalist values, even if the company in question isn’t profitable. Even if it claims to be a feminist or antiracist company.

Putting profit before other values is why people continue to drill for oil in the face of a global climate crisis. It is why many people around the world do not get a living wage and others are billionaires. It is why companies build dams that displace millions of people and generate profits for a few. Holding up billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Elon Musk as examples of “what is possible” ignores the business practices they use that harm their workers. Bezos and Musk are both openly against trade unions and Gates has said nothing in when workers at companies he profits from protested over poor working conditions.

Putting people before profits means more of us flourish

Large-scale anticapitalism requires systemic change. We cannot live outside capitalism, because capitalism is the economic system we’ve got. But on smaller scales we can do things differently right now. Anything we do that diverts the flow of money towards a place where more people have enough is anticapitalist.

There are lots of different lines of thinking about how we might do this, but I really like Kate Raworth’s Donut Economics concept, especially if this way of thinking about economics is new to you. Worker-owned co-operatives are anticapitalist, for example, because the workers own the means of production – there is no boss that is profiting from their labour. Growing and sharing veggies in a community garden is anticapitalist. How many other ways can you think of to be anticapitalist?

Business does not have to be capitalist

Many existing businesses are not inherently capitalist. If I pay someone £22 per hour to fix my boat and someone else pays me £100 per hour for coaching, we are each paying for things we want and need. All of us come out of this exchange with what we need to live. I charge more for my work than the boat fixer does because I have fewer hours to spend on client-facing work. If I had children to support, or I lived in a country where I had to pay to access healthcare, I might charge more. What matters is that we each end up with enough.

Again, this is because money is the medium of exchange that we currently use. Paying each other for things we want and need is an example of money flowing around an economy. If I suddenly decided to charge £1000 an hour, because I fancied having more money for myself, or if I sought out the cheapest boat builder to save money, or refused to pay them, I would be acting out capitalist values.

Capitalism intersects with other forms of oppression

Capitalism relies on a bunch of other -isms to prop it up. This means that simply increasing the diversity of a small pool of rich people isn’t anticapitalist. Nor is it feminist or antiracist, because it benefits a few privileged individuals at the expense of everybody else. Silvia Federici has written extensively on the relationship between capitalism and patriarchal family structures. Toi Smith has a brilliant workshop explaining how the enslavement of African people was essential to modern capitalism and the legacies of that history that persist to this day.

These intersections are at the heart of why care work, which is highly gendered and racialised, is so often undercompensated and exploitative. Sarah Jaffe’s book Work Won’t Love You Back talks through how these intersections show up in different workplaces. It is not capitalist to –for instance–hire a nanny or a cleaner, but it is capitalist to pay that person poorly or deny them agency around their working conditions.

Anticapitalism does not mean working for free

In a world where we use money as a medium for exchange, anticapitalism means everyone is fairly compensated. People rely on money for access to the things they need to live. It is anticapitalist to pay each other fairly for our time and labour. Being fairly compensated for your work does not make you a capitalist. It is not the same thing as hoarding money or doing business in ways that put profits before people

 Anticapitalism means not being extractive to each other or to ourselves. If you want a world where everyone thrives, you need to include yourself in that “everyone”. I’m not sure who or where I learned this from, but it radically changed my thinking here. Everybody’s work deserves to be compensated. Likewise, people who cannot work also deserve to be supported.

Donation-based work is anticapitalist

I make all of my “free” offerings donation-based rather than free. This acknowledges the value of the time and labour that goes into creating them. Working extensively for free in the hope that people will pay large amounts of money in the future is extractive to everyone involved. Offering my work on a donation-based basis allows people to support me now, while making my work available to everyone.

Sliding scale is another tool I use to create economic justice. Sliding scale pricing acknowledges the disparity in resources that exists under the current system and encourages people to think more critically about their access to resources. By paying higher on the scale, people can support access for others whose circumstances are different.

Take the damn money and do culture-shifting work

Taking money from wealthy people to fund countercultural work is not capitalist. This does not make you a sell-out. It does not make you assume dubious values. It does not make you part of the establishment. You get to draw lines where you want to.

It is true that philanthropy is a scam that enables the wealthiest people in the world to pay less tax. It is also true that taking money from philanthropists is redistributes funds and gets that money flowing where it is needed.

Being paid to make art that people don’t profit from is anticapitalist. Getting paid to coach people on thinking differently about work and life is anticapitalist. Doing countercultural work shifts culture. Our time and labour is valuable. Being able to do countercultural work is also a privileged position within the culture we are working to change. All these things can be true.

Anticapitalism doesn’t mean pricing low

Coaching is emotionally intense work and coaches have to charge high hourly rates. I get that. This means that finances are often a barrier to access to the people who might most benefit from coaching. If we want coaching to be accessible, we must build accessibility into our practices. I see more coaches recognising this and I hope that together we can shift the culture.

As coaches, we are focused on serving our clients and helping people. Are we pricing our work high because we need to, or are we following business advice that is focused on growing and scaling our businesses quickly? If our behind-the-scenes practices are focused on scaling our businesses quickly, who are we serving?

Do things different, not “better”

Most people in the world live in capitalist societies. We cannot be perfect anticapitalists given our current reality. That is okay, because perfection is a lie. We are all engaged in the process of unlearning and learning and figuring out how to do and be differently. I call myself an anticapitalist mindset coach, but/and I’m on this journey too. I’m unlearning and learning and figuring out right alongside everyone else.

The question I ask myself when I make decisions in my life and my business is: who am I serving here? I have grabby thoughts around money and wanting things to happen faster in my business. I am working on all of this as much as anyone else. Asking this question grounds me where I want to be, which is creating both coaching and economic justice.

Hiya! I’m Jane, I’m an anticapitalist mindset coach. I partner with people to unpack social conditioning, cultivate liberatory practices and navigate the bumpy parts of life. If you like what you read here, please consider supporting my writing via my Patreon page. My writing will always be freely accessible for all to read and your support helps make that happen. Thank you so much!